Friday, May 8, 2015

VOR Leg #6 - Oceans in Peril

                                                                            Buda Mendes - VOR
We can still foolishly debate whether mankind is significantly contributing to climate change, but after sailing the earth’s five major oceans, the Volvo Ocean Race sailors have delivered their undeniable verdict when it comes to pollution.  Humans are using the oceans of the world as a dumping ground for everything under the sun, from plastics, to chemicals, to human waste. 
And every four years, when the Volvo veterans sail the world anew, it gets worse.  Much worse.

You can almost feel the tears dripping from the words of Bouwe Bekking, Team Brunel’s veteran skipper now on his seventh circumnavigation of the globe. “I was feeling really sad about the amount of rubbish off the Indian coast, but now that we are sailing well in the Malacca Strait I unfortunately have to report that the Indian rubbish record has been broken by this famous Strait. There is just trash floating everywhere. It’s like sailing in a big soup of Styrofoam, plastic bags, bottles, condoms (yes, also plenty of these) and other things…like human feces.”

                                                  Steffan Coppers - Team Brunel

For the Volvo rookies the extent of the pollution has been more obstacle than disappointment. 

                                                 Armory Ross - Alvimedica

Francisco Vignale, aboard the Spanish boat MAPFRE described the scene on the third leg from Abu Dhabi to Sanya, China.  “I had been told this area is polluted, but I never thought it would be this bad. You just look down and see at least twenty objects floating – branches, trees, trash, buoys, nets, plastic, shoes, sandals.”
This is not to say that all of the oceans have been fouled with human waste, though the effects certainly can be seen far and wide, from Sargassum seaweed mats being fed by excess nitrogen in the Caribbean, to fish kills in the Indian Ocean and Brazil.
                                                                     Matt Knighton - Abu Dhabi

                                                                        Ricardo Moraes/Reuters

I have been covering the Volvo Ocean Race for almost twenty years and it is heartbreaking to see how the descriptions have changed over the last two decades.  And there is a predictable pattern.  The more people, the more polluted the waters. 

The oily masters of the Middle East are doing their best to kill the Gulf of Oman. 

India is rapidly destroying the Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal. 

The Indochinese nations of Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam are laying waste to the Andaman Sea. 

China and the Philippines are using the South China Sea for their own public toilet and garbage dump. 

And Malaysia and Indonesia have turned the Java and Banda Seas into vast dead zones.


Corinna Halloran, aboard Team SCA, couldn’t believe her eyes as they sailed near Singapore. “We have seen plastic bottles, Styrofoam, wooden planks, shoes, and sticks—pretty much everything including the kitchen sink! The pollution in this part of the ocean is pretty unreal and tragic, and we’re regularly catching debris on our keel and rudders.”

Ironically, the nations responsible for the most pollution are also the same ones overharvesting virtually all of the aquatic resources.  It’s like some desperate push to catch everything and anything in the water, before they are all gone.

Matt Knighton, onboard Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, painted this surreal picture during leg three. “The amount of fishing activity last night off the coast of Vietnam made it feel as if we were surrounded by a bright white halo on the horizon. The bright lights of squid boats passed within a boat length as we did 11 knots, speeding past them. Fishermen were lighting up our sails with their searchlights to see what the massive silhouette was that was sailing through their backyard.”

                                                                               Armory Ross - Alvimedica

But all is not gloom and doom.  New Zealand's pristine waters still teem with ocean life.  And large stretches of the South Atlantic and Pacific Oceans are still thriving.
Many people and groups around the world, including the Volvo Ocean Race and its corporate sponsors, are trying to protect endangered wildlife, through efforts like its “Save the Albatross” campaign.  And small non-profits like the Rozalia Project, are fighting pollution and educating the public about this planetary problem by "fishing" garbage out of the sea and collecting trash from the beaches around the world.  But it is a monumental task indeed.
Leg 6 of the VOR was a chess match from start to finish.  The winds were predictable and steady.  And there wasn’t a lot of strategy because all six boats essentially sailed the same route.  For the 5,000-mile journey, the boats were rarely more than few miles apart and often within sight of one another.  Every six hours when the position reports came out the leader board changed.  The race was all about team performance and boat speed.  If you could go just one knot faster than the others, you could go from fifth to first in just a few hours.  Needless to say it was extremely stressful and hard on the crews because they could never relax. 
                                                                     Armory Ross - Alvimedica
For hometown favorite Alvimedica it was like riding an emotional roller coaster.  Onboard reporter, Amory Ross, himself a Newport-based local, wrote: “It has happened so many times in this race, that after thousands and thousands of miles spent crossing this world’s oceans, it is the final hundred or so that decide the outcome.
 Francisco Vignale - MAPFRE
After 19 days of match racing from Brazil to Newport, Donfeng rebounded from their de-masting and last place finish in Leg 5, to squeak out a three minute victory over Abu Dhabi, followed fifty minutes later by Team Brunel.
                                                                    Buda Mendes - VOR

Next Stop – Lisbon, Portugal

  Buda Mendes - VOR

                         VOLVO  LEADER BOARD

Leg 1 Leg 2 Leg 3 Leg 4 Leg 5 Leg 6 Overall
Abu Dhabi 1 3 2 2 1 2 11
Alvimedica 5 4 3 4 3 5 24
Brunel 3 1 5 5 4 3 21
Dongfeng 2 2 1 3 DNF-8 1 17
MAPFRE 7 4 4 1 2 4 22
SCA 6 6 6 6 5 6 35
Vestas Wind 4 DNF-8 DNS-8 DNS-8 DNS-8 DNS-8 44

                                                                     Corinna Halloran - SCA